'American Idol' Review: Sure Taylor Won, But What's the Deal with Freaky Clay Aiken?
by Scott Long
I know I'm a little late doing a wrap-up of the final episode of American Idol, but I still do have a few things to offer. I will go in order, as the two-hour finale actually lived up to the hype. It had moments of great entertainment, even though half of the show was filled with massive Amtrak collisions.
The show began with live remotes of the two finalists, hometown celebrations. Taylor had, what appeared to be, half of the state of Alabama, in Birmingham to root him on. It was like the Iron Bowl times 10. Katharine, on the other hand, had about 30 people there in L.A., which I'm guessing half were part of a Fox TV tour group.
In Katherine's defense, let me mention this. I've been to Birmingham and I've been to L.A. There is nothing to do outside of going to the Stardome in Birmingham, so no wonder Taylor was drawing such big crowds. Los Angeles has so much going on that they couldn't keep an NFL team there, as people have better things to do than show up to football games. Like watch the E! channel.
The American Idol finale featured many of this season's contestants singing with their musical heroes. First up was Paris Bennett dueting with Al Jarreau. While Mr. Jarreau is a fellow University of Iowa alum, I don't get his crazy scatting style. I know "We're in This Love Together" is his signature song, but my choice would have been "Theme from Moonlighting," with maybe a guest appearance from Miss Dipesto and Herbert Viola doing the tango to it.
The guy who should have won the contest, Chris Daughtry, was up next and he joined the band Live in a strong duet of some new song from the band that no one will ever hear again on network TV or commercial radio. (I'm not gay, but ... alert!) Is there any guy sporting a bald head who looks cooler than singer Ed Kowalczyk? He was like a cross between Andre Agassi and the villian from the movie The Mummy.
A running bit through the show was little comedy sketches that Kelly Pickler did with noted comic actor Wolfgang Puck. Pickler is not much of a singer, but she has decent comedic timing and I look forward to when she joins the cast of the reformed Mandrell Sisters Variety Show, with Kelly reprising the role of Louise Mandrell. Look for the Pickler to be opening for Yakov Smirnoff in Branson by 2010. America, what a country!
The next duet featured Katharine singing with Meat Loaf. Katharine might have had her best singing performance during this song, but it was hard to focus with Marvin Lee Adlay emoting like Shatner during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I mean the guy was shaking so bad that even Muhammad Ali watching at home was praying for this fight to be stopped. I've never understood how anyone can listen to Jim Steinman's epic song-writing style. The only performance I've ever liked on a Meat Loaf album was by Phil Rizzuto. (This reference to Rizzuto officially makes this post a baseball piece, so all the haters stay off my back and focus your venom on World Cup updates.)
While I usually can't stand when shows do a choreographed piece using the cast, the segment with all the guys singing BTO's "Takin' Care of Business" was good. Standouts were Daughtry and Elliott Yamin, who are the two best male singers the show has ever had. Even poodle-haired Bucky Covington sang well on the tune. On the negative side, Ace Young demonstrated once again that the guy is little more than a breathy singing Tiger Beat pinup come to life. A final note to this performance was that Taylor played harmonica in the song, showing who he really is. Return of Bruno I say!
After a great beginning to U2's classic "One," sung beautifully by Yamin, Mary J. Blige joined him and went way over the top, drowning out Yamin and whomever else was attempting to speak in a five-mile radius. Can someone develop a V-chip which shuts down a television whenever someone over-sings? I'm buying it as soon as it's available.
Last year's winner, Carrie Underwood, was up next. Underwood, who I think is a lightweight talent, did a fine job with whatever song she was doing and she looked really hot doing it. While she's no Natalie Maines or Sara Evans, she has more ability than I gave her credit for.
Another running feature during the show was to have "awards" given to the most memorable audition losers. I enjoyed this segment, despite it giving more airtime to the swarmiest man in TV, Ryan Seacrest. Every time I see Seacrest on the screen I think about how he and fellow no-talents Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul should kick in 90 percent of their salaries to Simon Cowell, as Simon is the reason the show is such a sensation. Oh and one more thing, where is Dunkleman?
Taylor was paired for a duet with Toni Braxton on "In the Ghetto." Braxton was singing at such a low key that her voice could not be heard except by sperm whales. It was like she was trying to channel the deep bass voiced guy from the Oak Ridge Boys. "Umm Papa, Umm Papa, Umm Papa, Mau Mau." Who would have guessed that Curtis Martin would have a longer career than Braxton? Well, maybe Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson would have bet against Toni.
While the men's ensemble number was good, the women proved that they were definitely not the equal in talent for the 2006 season. Mandissa was the best, as she has a great voice and a pretty face, but genetics will keep her in the backup singer role.
The show was beginning to hit a lull but then one of the most memorable moments in TV history was about to happen. A clip was shown from the auditions of a guy who looked a lot like Clay Aiken. After presenting him an award for Best Impersonator -- I thought Taylor whould have won for doing Michael McDonald -- Clay II came out to sing, only to be joined by the freakish Aiken himself. I know in the past many have felt I was unfair to the Gaiken, but after his performance Wednesday night, I've been vindicated. If you don't believe me, watch this clip.
Aiken looked like something out of plastic surgery nightmare. It was the least human-looking performance to hit the TV airwaves since Max Headroom. And what do you call the singing style he was using? Though I did appreciate the humor of Clay singing "Don't Let the Sun (SON) Go Down On Me." (Hack joke, but when it comes to the Gaiken, I will do whatever it takes to bring him to his knees. Well... you know what I mean.)
Putting the show back on the talent track, Burt Bacharach led the cast in singing some of his greatest hits. Once again, Elliott was the standout performer, doing a version of "This House is Not a Home" that had Luther Vandross groovin' in his grave. How I know this? I spoke to my Psychic Friends who had contacted Luther. These "friends" were available, as their leader, Dionne Warwick was busy reprising some of her Bacharach classics on the show at the time. Dionne has the reserved phrasing that is the antithesis of the overdramatic warbling which wrecks so much of modern soul music. Also, Ms. Warwick was the greatest "Solid Gold" TV host, far exceeding her successors. (Done in the voice of a cheesy '80s TV announcer.) Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's hear it for your host. Marilyn McCoo and Rex Smith.
Right before the results were to be announced, out popped Prince. I haven't heard his new release, outside of the first single, but his performing power and completely unique singing style on the songs he did made me want to go out and buy it. Listening to Prince is a great example of why Taylor Hicks is so limited as a performer. There is nothing original about the guy. Sure Prince has been influenced by the likes of James Brown and Sly Stone, but he is completely an original at the same time. Taylor Hicks is a tribute act.
In the most anti-climatic announcement since Bush 41 beat Dukakis, Taylor was crowned champion. I figure the most nervous guys about his victory are Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez, as the Just for Men executives must have Taylor in their future spokesman sites.
This year's American Idol had the greatest depth of talent, but sadly, there were four more deserving people to win the show's crown. I would have voted:
To close the show, Taylor sang the first single set to be released by him, entitled, "Do I Make You Proud?" It's truly a hideous song, but it was contracted by the American Idol show for the winner and it sets him off to be the next Michael Bolton. Not having to record a song like this should be a nice consolation prize for Chris and Elliott, the true talents that came about from the best year of American Idol.